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Special interrogatories in dissolution (divorce) proceedings in California

Special interrogatories in dissolution (divorce) proceedings in California are the topic of this blog post.

California law provides that a party in a divorce or other family law proceeding under the Family Code can utilize the same discovery procedures as are used in California civil litigation as the same rules and procedures are applicable unless another statute or rule has been adopted by the California Judicial Council.  See Family Code § 210.

In my personal opinion the use of special interrogatories in most divorce cases in California is overlooked by many parties and even some attorneys as they are under the misguided by mistaken impression that the official Judicial Council Form Interrogatories-Family Law designed for use in family law proceedings cover “almost everything.”

I do agree that the official Judicial Council Form Interrogatories for a California family law case are quite detailed but the plain and simple fact is that they do not cover certain topics such as are commonly found in contested divorces such as custody issues and requests for attorney’s fees and spousal support.

Utilizing special interrogatories correctly can mean the difference between winning and losing for many divorce cases.  Yet some law firms and solo attorneys are so overworked and understaffed that they do not have the time to propound enough relevant discovery on their divorce cases.  The unfortunate truth is that failed to do so can meet that many cases which could have been won at trial, or a reasonable settlement reached before trial, instead are lost.

The California statutes that govern special interrogatories are found in Code of Civil Procedure § 2030.010, et seq.

Code of Civil Procedure § 2030.010 states that, “(a) Any party may obtain discovery within the scope delimited by Chapters 2 (commencing with Section 2017.010) and 3 (commencing with Section 2017.710), and subject to the restrictions set forth in Chapter 5 (commencing with Section 2019.010), by propounding to any other party to the action written interrogatories to be answered under oath. (b) An interrogatory may relate to whether another party is making a certain contention, or to the facts, witnesses, and writings on which a contention is based. An interrogatory is not objectionable because an answer to it involves an opinion or contention that relates to fact or the application of law to fact, or would be based on information obtained or legal theories developed in anticipation of litigation or in preparation for trial.”

California law states that the respondent in a divorce or other family law case may propound special interrogatories at any time. See Code of Civil Procedure § 2030.020(a). However a petitioner may not do so until at least ten (10) days have passed since service of the summons on the respondent, or their general appearance, whichever occurs first. See Code of Civil Procedure § 2030.020(b).

I will now discuss below some very important statutory restrictions that must be adhered to in drafting special interrogatories in California.

One of the most important statutory restrictions in California is the numerical limit of thirty five (35) on the number of special interrogatories. However if a supporting declaration stating that any additional interrogatories are warranted due to the complexity of the case and other certain factors is attached, any party may propound more additional special interrogatories. See Code of Civil Procedure §§ 2030.030 and 2030.050.

Another important statutory restriction on special interrogatories in California are the restrictions on format. For example in California no specially prepared interrogatory can contain subparts, or a compound, conjunctive or disjunctive question. See Code of Civil Procedure § 2030.060. This means that a special interrogatory cannot contain part a, b, c, etc., nor can it contain a question with more than one part, and it cannot contain the word “and” which is conjunctive, it also cannot contain the word “or” which is disjunctive. Although many special interrogatories do violate these format rules I need to warn you that if you do use that type of format you run the risk of the responding party interposing objections to the interrogatories on those grounds.

While I have to that a deposition can be a vital tool they also have their limitations such as the fact that you cannot ask someone in a deposition to state all facts, list all witnesses and identify all documents that support or pertain to any particular contention in that party’s pleadings, although that information is discoverable when sought by written interrogatory. Rifkind v. Superior Court (1994) 22 Cal.App.4th 1255, 1257 (emphasis added).

And the law is well settled in California that the scope of discovery is very broad. Any doubts will be applied liberally in favor of discovery.

These rules are applied liberally in favor of discovery. Colonial Life & Accident Ins. Co. v. Superior Court (1982) 31 Cal.3d 785, 790, and (contrary to popular belief), fishing expeditions are permissible in some cases. Greyhound Corp. v. Superior Court (1961) 56 Cal.2d 355, 385, (“although fishing may be improper or abused in some cases, that “is not of itself an indictment of the fishing expedition per se”.)

As I have emphasized in this blog post, the proper use of special interrogatories in a divorce case in California is an excellent tool for (1) evaluating the strengths and weaknesses of each party’s case; (2) preparing for trial, and (3) facilitating settlement.

Special interrogatories are particularly useful for ascertaining the facts, witnesses and documents that support the opposing party’s claims or defenses.

Attorneys or parties in California that would like to view a portion of sample special interrogatories which are 14 pages and includes brief instructions, 40 sample interrogatories, sample declaration for additional discovery and proof of service by mail sold by the author can see below.

 

Attorneys or parties in California that would like more information on a California divorce litigation document package containing over 45 sample documents including sample special interrogatories use the link shown below.

California divorce litigation document package

The author of this log post, Stan Burman, is a freelance paralegal who has worked in California and Federal litigation since 1995 and has created over 300 sample legal documents for sale.

*Do you want to use this article on your website, blog or e-zine? You can, as long as you include this blurb with it: “Stan Burman is the author of over 300 sample legal documents for California and Federal litigation and is the author of a free weekly legal newsletter. You can receive 10 free gifts just for subscribing. Just visit http://freeweeklylegalnewsletter.gr8.com/ for more information.

 You can view sample legal document packages for sale at: http://legaldocspro.net

DISCLAIMER:

Please note that the author of this blog post, Stan Burman is NOT an attorney and as such is unable to provide any specific legal advice. The author is NOT engaged in providing any legal, financial, or other professional services, and any information contained in this blog post is NOT intended to constitute legal advice.

The materials and information contained in this blog post have been prepared by Stan Burman for informational purposes only and are not legal advice. Transmission of the information contained in this blog post is not intended to create, and receipt does not constitute, any business relationship between the author and any readers. Readers should not act upon this information without seeking professional counsel.

 

 

 

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